Ten leaders of the independence movement in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon could be at risk of torture and an unfair trial if extradited from Nigeria, where they have been arrested and detained in secret for one week, Amnesty International said today.
On January 5, armed men in plain clothes stormed a hotel in the capital Abuja where the activists, all members of the pro-independence Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), were meeting, and arrested them without presenting a warrant or providing an explanation.
They are being held incommunicado, without any access to a lawyer, in contravention of Nigerian law which demands they must be seen by a judge within 48 hours.
Human rights lawyers in Nigeria have said that an extradition request has been made by the Cameroonian government, but no details of the request have been made public.
“By holding these activists in secret, without charge, the Nigerian authorities are failing to respect both national and international law. If they are extradited to Cameroon, they risk an unfair trial before a military court and the deeply disturbing possibility of torture,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“Efforts to tackle the Anglophone crisis should always respect the law, and avoid restrictions on freedom of expression. Authorities in Nigeria should immediately disclose the activists’ whereabouts, allow them access to a lawyer, and unless they have sufficient evidence to charge them with a recognisable crime, release them immediately,” said Mr. Ojigho.
The SCNC members have said that they were meeting in Nigeria to discuss the influx of thousands of asylum seekers following protests in October, in which over 20 civilians were killed by security forces.
In recent months, over 10 members of security forces have also been killed by more radical pro-independence groups. The SCNC has throughout claimed to pursue their aim of independence for the Anglophone regions through peaceful means.
All those arrested were legally living in Nigeria, and some had been granted political asylum.
Under Nigerian law, it would be illegal to extradite the activists for political crimes, or if they faced the risk of torture or an unfair trial.
In Cameroon, those charged with crimes related to national security are prosecuted by military courts without respect for due process, and Amnesty International has documented a widespread pattern of torture by security forces and intelligence agencies.
In July 2017 the organisation published a report documenting over 100 cases of torture of people accused without evidence of supporting Boko Haram.